It was going to take a lot for the Hawaii softball team to pick up an NCAA tournament berth at the conclusion of this week.
For starters, the Rainbow Wahine needed to sweep Thursday’s doubleheader against UC Davis to keep hope of an outright Big West regular-season title alive into Friday’s senior night. Sweeping Davis in three games and having Cal State Fullerton lose out at UC Riverside in three games Friday and Saturday was the only combination that would result in Hawaii making the NCAAs for the first time since 2013.
The drama of the chase for UH (33-15, 14-6 Big West) ended just two games in, as Davis (38-14, 12-8) proved tough enough to salvage a split of the doubleheader at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Ace Brittany Hitchcock provided everything her team could’ve asked for, and then some, in the first contest, throwing a career-long 12 innings of five-hit ball with 13 strikeouts and just one walk in UH’s 2-1 win. It was an epic pitchers’ duel with Davis sophomore Brooke Yanez, the Big West’s other top-tier player in wins and ERA who punched out a program-record-tying 18 in 11 1/3.
It was the first time this season Hitchcock pitched into extras. It actually could’ve ended in the standard seven, but Isabella Leon got a handle on a rare mistake pitch by Hitchcock and sent it out to knot it at 1-1.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever pitched 12 innings, but I wasn’t even thinking about what inning it was,” the sixth-year senior said. “I knew we were still in it. We had the game going into the seventh, so I didn’t want to let up after I gave up that home run. I was just excited that we were able to compete, stay in the game and pull off that first win.”
Hitchcock (20-7) became UH’s first 20-game winner since Kaia Parnaby shouldered 39 in 2013. Yanez, who gave up only one hit in regulation — Callee Heen’s fourth-inning home run — dropped to 24-7.
Inning after inning, Hitchcock and Yanez retired their opposite’s teammates with little drama.
“I was just shocked how fast the game was going,” the Davis ace said. “If it was a seven-inning game, I think it would’ve finished in 45 minutes. I was pretty amazed by that. I mean, we both had good games, I feel like. It was a struggle, but I honestly didn’t feel that tired. I was ready to win it.”
After Nicole Lopez opened the bottom of the 12th with a single up the middle and Heen moved her to second with a one-out single past the first baseman, Cheeks Ramos was the hero, smacking a double to right that left no doubt Lopez would score standing up.
“One out at a time, going out there, defense had been solid, we were just waiting for that moment, because we knew we were going to do it,” Hitchcock said. “It was just a matter of when.”
It was redemption for the shortstop Ramos, who committed all three of UH’s errors in the game. UH coach Bob Coolen put Sissy Pantastico at short late in the game but left Ramos in as the designated player in the lineup.
Cheeks Ramos is the hero in the bottom of the 12th with a walkoff double to right, scoring Nicole Lopez for a #HawaiiSB 2-1 win over UC Davis.
Second game of the doubleheader to come. pic.twitter.com/62uCV2Yds8
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) May 10, 2019
“She was starting to get unsure of whatever she was doing, so we just took her out, left her in the lineup because her bat was something that could win a ballgame, and did win a ballgame,” Coolen said.
Davis, which could’ve reached a program-best 40 wins with a sweep of UH this week, has had a banner year, and it showed in the Aggies’ response.
As impressively as Hitchcock performed, Yanez was just as much of a star for Davis, and in both games. She channeled her energy into her bat in the 7-3 UCD win in the nightcap, going 3-for-4 with a home run (the long ball came in a disastrous third inning for UH, when three Aggies went deep) and three RBIs.
“Pitching, I have way more confidence than hitting, but I do what I can do get on base and just score for my team,” Yanez said.
UH’s young group of secondary pitchers (freshman Izzy Dino, freshman Ashley Murphy, sophomore Emily Klee) was unable to hold the line that Hitchcock laid in Game 1. UH’s staff leader asked Coolen whether he wanted her to come on in relief in the nightcap, but he sensed she was tired and wanted to give it her all on Friday.
“Props to Davis for not giving up after that first game,” Hitchcock said. “It’s late for us, it’s late for them. For them to stay pumped up, it was who was going to stay fighting that (second) game and they came out on top.”
Hitchcock and Yanez figure to duel one more time at 7 on Friday, followed by traditional senior ceremonies.
“We’ve had an incredible year, and just like any year, the seniors want to go out on top and enjoy the moment,” Hitchcock said. “Soak it all in. Hopefully we can do it together as a team and go out and get that last win as one family.” Updated: May 19
|Cal State Fullerton||18-3||.857||38-18||.679|
|Long Beach State||12-9||.571||25-25||.500|
|Cal State Northridge||10-11||.476||26-28||.481|
|UC Santa Barbara||4-17||.190||10-42||.192|